Everglades Airboat Tours With Captain Mitch & Crew.
Whenever we have visitors from out of town they want to do two things: go to the beach and take an airboat ride. We are always happy to oblige them and have enjoyed Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours many many times Every excursion is an adventure and every one is different. On a hot and humid day in August we had the pleasure of another airboat ride, this one with Captain Stanford at the helm. As soon as we took off we forgot the heat and humidity; the cool breeze was a welcome relief.
Explore The Eco System
Nothing can be more fun than flying through the mangroves, listening to the hum of the giant fan behind you, keeping a lookout for one of the many inhabitants of the grassy wetlands that surround you. This Florida eco-system is like none-other, a unique and protected national park. It’s so beautiful. And the ride is a unique experience, both exhilarating and relaxing at the same time.On this particular day we saw blue herons stalking fish and egrets perched on treetops. Cameras and smart phones were held in position, ready to capture that postcard moment. Then suddenly the airboat slows down and the Captain points to a mangrove’s edge. We look but can’t see anything. We move closer and finally see it: alligator eyes glistening just above the surface of the water. Our captain has done this for so many years he knows how to spot them.
The alligator is unimpressed with the boat full of curious observers. He stares at us and we feel very safe on this airboat with our confident captain. Then the alligator slowly swims toward our boat as if to say ‘hello.’ The captain carefully manoeuvers the boat so everyone can see the alligator to our left. We stare in awe, holding our breaths, leaning to the right a little to create more space between it and us. Our captain is well-versed in the flora and fauna of the wetlands and tells us all about alligators and how to tell the difference between a male and a female. This one is a young one, only about six feet long. He can tell it’s a male because it has a tooth sticking straight up out of the side of his mouth. The largest alligator our captain has ever seen is a 13-footer, but he says he has heard of one that was 15 feet long and weighed between 700 and 800 pounds. ‘Wow,’ we all say in unison.
It’s Like Flying
We move on, this time picking up even more speed. We are flying now, at a speed of only about 40 miles per hour but it seems much faster, and the cool breeze is refreshing. The captain weaves through the swamp grass, our airboat leaning right and then left. He hugs the curves of the mangroves and the boat tilts left and right. But we never feel out of balance or afraid. I know we must be touching the water, but it seems like we are flying over it, the ride is so smooth. It reminded me of the “Soaring” attraction at Epcot, only this is real, not simulated.
Gator Nesting Season
The other thrill is being one with nature and seeing all the amazing plants and animals. The captain slows after a while and steers the boat straight into the saw grass toward some mangroves and a palm tree. He points out an alligator nest, a mound of grass and twigs about three feet high. He tells us the female built this nest several months ago, during our winter months, when the water was low and the land was dry. It was built on dry land so she could lay her eggs, before our summer rain came.
Our captain tells us that a female alligator can lay up to 40 eggs at a time. She then covers her eggs with more vegetation and the sun warms the nest to help the eggs hatch. But the survival rate for young alligators is very slim. Baby alligators are easy prey for birds and larger alligators, all except their own mother, of course. The captain says it will be luck if three survive to adulthood. We hear a clicking noise and ask Captain Stanford what it is. It’s just a bull frog and points in its direction. It’s amazing that these animals cohabitate together so well and it’s a thrill to be able to observe them from a safe distance. As we listen to the captain, the mother alligator approaches us on our right and the captain draws our attention to her. She eyes us as if to let us know she is keeping an eye on her nest and watching us. She’s a young one, not very long and fairly thin, and the captains have named her ‘Twiggy.’
During the winter months more land animals can be observed from the airboat: deer, bear, raccoons, wild boar and curlews, all cohabitating in the hammocks. They travel at night, from hammock to hammock, foraging for food. But in mid-August the water is too high and the land animals have moved to higher, dryer ground. We take off again and I wonder how this captain knows his way. The airboat trails and mangroves all seem very similar to me. It’s like a maze. But the captain is sitting higher than we are and I notice a radio tower in the distance which I figure is his landmark. We head back as egrets and a hawk soar over us, cameras clicking all around me. The captain thanks us for joining him on the ride and asks if there are any questions. Of course there are a few. We don’t want it to end. We want to hear more about the Everglades and the alligators. Guess we’ll just have to come back for another airboat ride.